The land of Pablo Neruda and Isabella Allende, Chile is a complete experience – nature and adventure rolled into one. There is so much packed into this stretched out, string bean of a country - the urban boulevards and the bustle of Santiago, the Andean foothills and the Atacama Desert, the Pacific coastline and the National Parks, the guanaco and the glaciers. The Europeans have populated this country with vigour but the warm and resilient people of Chile have stuck to their traditions, especially in the Andean foothills.
Enjoy a trek and go spotting the amazing guanaco in its National Parks, indulge in the bright blue of the Pacific, the intense brown of the Andes and the Atacama, and the pearly whites of the glaciers in Southern Chile.
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CHILE QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Santiago
- Currency: Chilean Peso (CLP)
- Area: 756,102 km²
- Population: 18,734,200 (2018 estimate)
- Language: Spanish
- Religion: Roman Catholic 70%, Protestant 15.1%, None 8.3%
- Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (type C & L plugs)
Chile has the distinction of being the longest country in the world as well as also the narrowest - it is 4300 km long and just 175 km wide.
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CHILE PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 May, Labor Day
- 21 May, Battle of Iquique
- 15 August, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- 18 September, Independence Day
- 19 September, Armed Forces Day
- 12 October, Día de la Raza
- 1 November, All Saints Day
- 8 December, Immaculate Conception
- 31 December, Bank Holiday
Also, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Corpus Christi.
FESTIVALS IN CHILE
- Santiago a Mil - (January) This long-running theatre and dance fest features dozens of shows and events around the Chilean capital, staged by international and local companies. The 17-day event begins in early January and is held throughout the city, including in free outdoor venues.
- Festival de Viña - (February) One of the largest and most important music fests in Latin America, this Chilean blockbuster has been going strong since 1960. Expect to see top stars as well as rising talents on the international scene – Shakira was one of many who came to fame during the event. It kicks off in late February in Viña del Mar.
- Lollapalooza Chile - Chile’s rock fest kicks off in Santiago in late March or early April, and features an impressive line-up of homegrown and international groups on par with the North American version of Lollapalooza.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CHILE
Due to the geography of the country, the seasons in Chile are incredibly diverse. Depending on the region you wish to visit and the activities that you're after, the best time for different regions is restricted to a particular season. Chile experiences mostly dry southern hemisphere summers between November and January and wet winters between May and August. Chile’s climate can range from tropical in the North, the Mediterranean in the center, and Antarctic (antiboreal oceanic) in the South with unique regional climates like the arid Atacama Desert or the high peaks of the Andean mountains.
If you want to pay Torres del Paine or Lake District a visit, the ideal time to do so would be during the summer months of December through March, which is also the high tourist season in all of Chile. Festivals and events during these months are plentiful but ensure to make your reservations well in advance or you’ll be most likely left stranded with limited or very expensive options.
If you want to explore Northern Altiplano, summer is the wet season in this region, with monsoon rain spoiling most afternoons throughout the season. Winters from June-September is a great time for skiing.
Spring (late September-October) and autumn (March-May) is also a fantastic time to plan your Chilean trip as the weather is pleasant in almost all cities of the country and you will get the cheapest prices on hotels and flights.
While places like the Atacama Desert can be visited throughout the year, the autumn month of March is the ideal time to visit Easter Islands and the Juan Fernandez Archipelago.
- November to February - Patagonia is best (and most expensive) but beaches are often crowded.
- March to May, September to October - Grape harvests in wine regions; pleasant Santiago temperatures.
- June to August - Fine weather in the north; Chileans go on winter vacation in July.
CHILE WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Chile experiences mostly dry southern hemisphere summers between November and January and wet winters between May and August. Chile’s climate can range from tropical in the North, Mediterranean in the center, and Antarctic (antiboreal oceanic) in the South with unique regional climates like the arid Atacama Desert or the high peaks of the Andean mountains. Climate in Chile is mostly influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the Antarctic Oscillation (AAO). Years with ENSO have higher probability of precipitation. Together with PDO, ENSO considerably affect snow accumulation and mountain flow regimes.
CHILE TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN CHILE
Chilean ski and snowboard resorts are open from mid-June to late September or early October, with lower rates available early and late in the season. Most ski areas are above 3300m and treeless; the runs are long, the season is long and the snow is deep and dry. Three major resorts are barely an hour from the capital, while a fourth is about two hours away on the Argentine border.
Santiago’s four most popular ski centers – El Colorado/Farellones, La Parva and Valle Nevado – are clustered in three valleys in the Mapocho river canyon, hence their collective name, Tres Valles. They’re only 30km to 40km northeast of Santiago, and the traffic-clogged road up can be slow going. Outside of weekends and high season there are hefty mid-week discounts on both ski passes and hotels. The predominance of drag lifts means that lines get long during the winter holidays, but otherwise crowds here are bearable. Ask about combination tickets if you’re planning on skiing at multiple resorts.
HIKING & CYCLING IN CHILE
While in central Chile you can enjoy outdoor activities all the way from September until June, the months of November to March are the best time, especially south of Copiapó.
BEACH OPTIONS IN CHILE
The most popular time to visit the beautiful Pacific coast beaches of Chile is during the summer, from December to February. March and November will be cooler but still pleasant.
SURFING IN CHILE
Chile is an incredible all year round surfing destination, boasting an average of 300 days of surf per year, although most would choose to avoid the cold winter months of June, July and August.
KITESURF IN CHILE
The most consistent and best winds in Chile for kitesurfing are from September to March. Check out the following spots: Matanzas village, Roca Cuadrada, Pupuya and La Boca.
For more details on kite surfing in Chile expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN CHILE
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
CHILE TRAVEL COSTS
There are many ways to rack up some great memories in South America without putting a big ding in the budget. Travel is cheapest in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. How much does it cost to visit Chile? That depends on a few different factors, specifically, what you plan on doing while you’re here as well as your travel style. Chile is by no means a cheap destination though and basic living costs in Chile will account for a much higher proportion of your total expenses than in the cheaper South American destinations. The combination of food, drink and accommodation combined account for roughly two-thirds of expenditure in Chile.
If you want to get by on a 'backpacking' budget of under US$ 40-50 per day you will have to stay in a hostel dorm, eat cheap food (but mainly cooking your own meals), use public transportation, and participate in basic activities like visiting museums. If you have a mid-range budget and travelling as a couple you should budget at least US$ 100 per day which will allow you to stay in budget hotels (or Airbnb), take buses between destinations, eat out more of the time, and do more excursions.
If you’re looking to do some multi-day hikes or more adventure activities, your budget is going to need a little more padding. Likewise, if you plan to travel quickly since you’ll probably need to fly to reach destinations.
How To Stick to your Budget:
Slow down - stick around and enjoy a place rather than rushing off to the next destination. The further and faster you go, the more you’ll have to pay.
Eat like a local at street stalls or markets.
Opt for dorm rooms or share a room with a buddy.
Stay in fan (non-air-con) rooms with shared bathroom.
Travel overland instead of flying.
Book flights online (and bus tickets where possible) rather than paying an agent commission.
Snorkel instead of dive.
Choose small towns instead of big cities.
Be discriminating about which sites and national parks to visit.
Factor in more free days: on the beach and exploring neighbourhoods.
Avoid package deals (transportation, lodging, touring).
Know how much local transportation should cost and bargain accordingly.
Avoid surprises by negotiating taxi fares before getting inside.
Don’t forget to factor in the costs of visas.
Track all of your daily expenses so you know your average costs.
CHILE TRAVEL TIPS
If you plan to explore Chile, renting a car is a great option. It gives you the maximum liberty to move between the different areas. You can
rent a car if you have a valid driver’s license, are 25 years of age, and present either a credit card or huge cash deposit. Expect to pay around US$ 125 for a one week rental.
Though most taxis are metered, it is suggested that you negotiate the fee in advance. Long-distance buses are comfortable and reliable. Although ride-sharing apps like Uber are available, Uber’s app and website make no mention of its unsettled legal status in Chile, where it now boasts 2.2 million monthly users and 85,000 drivers since its launch here in 2014. However, it's been an ongoing battle since with driver s fined and harassed (best case) and sometimes turning their unwitting passengers into accomplices. Current proposed changes to legislation might make it more difficult for these services to compete in the future, although the official tone is that the intention is to regulate it, not to prevent its expansion.
The only budget form of traveling in Chile is by bus. Even this way you might spend a lot on transport, since distances are huge, especially in Patagonia or between Santiago and the Atacama Desert. Chilean buses run on time and tickets must be purchased ahead of time. Fares are reasonable by European or North American standards but expensive compared to neighbouring countries. As example, for the cross-country journey from Santiago to Punta Arenas, expect to pay at least US$ 85 for the 40-hour bus ride (this is an incredibly long distance so you will be better off breaking it into stages or should rather fly).
Trains link Santiago with Curico, Talca, Linares, and Chillan with air-conditioned cars, but that’s the extent of Chile’s train infrastructure. No national railways operate north of Santiago. In general, trains are slow and inconveniently and cannot compete with the speed, low fares and punctuality of the buses. Schedules change so it’s best to check an official timetable.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF CHILE
- Atacama desert - Visit erupting geysers, crinkly salt plains and emerald lakes in the morning, and deep, mystical valleys by sunset in the driest desert on earth. Days are spent taking in Mars-like rock formations, floating on salt lakes and wandering through a spurting geyser field, followed by evenings gazing at some of the clearest night skies on the planet. Uncommon adventures abound, from sandboarding and mountain-bike rides to scenic hikes through red-rock canyons, or simply watching pink flamingos and other animal life.
- Elqui Valley/stargazing near Vicuna - Take advantage of some of the clearest skies in Chile and look at the universe through some of the world's most powerful telescopes.
- Santiago - Chile's rapidly evolving capital city boasts a vibrant eating out and nightlife scene, several fascinating museums, numerous cultural pursuits, and a selection of excellent places to stay.
- Valparaíso - One of South America's most enchanting cities, Valparaíso has a tangle of colourful houses, cobbled streets, and bohemian hang-outs spread across a series of undulating hills overlooking the Pacific.
- Wineries - Visit the numerous traditional bodegas around San Fernando and Santa Cruz, and sample some of Chile's finest vintages.
- Parque Nacional Torres del Paine - Hike the trails of Chile's most popular – and most spectacular – national park or climb the granite towers that give the park its name. Trekking through this Unesco Biosphere Reserve isn’t for the faint of heart – guides say the park sees all four seasons in a single day – but hiking the ‘W’ remains a rite of passage for generations of adventurous travellers.
- Patagonia - Trek, camp, kayak and horseback ride in this wildly beautiful landscape.
- Iquique - Catch a wave in this surf capital of the north coast.
- Chiloé Island - The largest island of the country. Sample one of Chile's most memorable dishes, admire the palafitos (traditional houses on stilts), or hike through the temperate rainforest on Chile's mist and legend shrouded island.
- Isla Robinson Crusoe - Although badly damaged by the 2010 tsunami, Isla Robinson Crusoe still has the end-of-the-world castaway feel that inspired Daniel Defoe's famous book.
- Easter Island - Gazing down into the giant crater of the extinct Rano Kau volcano and visiting the magical moai at Ahu Tongariki and Rano Raraku are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
- Tierra del Fuego - Explore the deserted roads running through the steppe and dotted with guanacos and rheas, or fish in the pristine lakes and rivers of Chile's remotest region.
- Isla Navarino - Chile's southernmost inhabited territory (barring Antarctica), where the warmth of the locals contrasts with the harshness of the landscape.
- Laguna San Rafael National Park - includes the San Rafael Glacier. Take a boat trip to the ice-filled lagoon that is Chile's fastest shrinking glacier and get close to the ice in a Zodiac speedboat.
- Lauca National Park - the Lago Chungará, one of the world's highest lakes, overseen by the mighty Volcán Parinacota.
- Valle de la Luna - breath-taking desert landscape with impressive sand dunes and rock formations.
From the towering heights of the Andes to the beaches along its coastline, Chile offers an outdoor enthusiast everything from skiing and mountain biking to swimming in the blue waters of coastal towns. And if you are a wine aficionado, a trip to the vineyards around Valparaiso is definitely in order, as Chilean wine is renowned the world over.
Allow at least three to four weeks if you wish to cover Chile from top to bottom; flying between some of the destinations will allow you to cover vast distances quickly. However, if you only have 2 weeks consider the following:
Spend a day exploring the museums and cafes of Santiago - visit the picturesque port of Valparaíso. From central Chile, you’ll have to decide whether to venture north – to San Pedro de Atacama and its mystical desertscapes, adventure sports and starry skies – or to the glaciers and trekking paradise of Torres del Paine and Patagonia in the south. In the second week, choose your own adventure: sample the wine in the Colchagua Valley, hike the Andes or go skiing at a resort like Portillo, seek out a surf break in Pichilemu, venture to the end of the earth in Tierra del Fuego, or tour the pisco distilleries outside La Serena.
Traveling inland, the balmy coast of sunbathers and surfers shifts to cactus scrub plains and dry mountains streaked in reddish tones. Mines scar these ore-rich beasts whose primary reserve, copper, fuels much of the Chilean economic engine. There is more than to this area though - with its fertile valleys producing pisco grapes, papayas and avocados. The exceptionally clear skies mean this area is famous for its celestial observation opportunities – many international telescopic, optical and radio projects are based here. The driest desert in the world, the Atacama provide a refuge to flamingos on its salt lagoons, sculpted moonscapes and geysers ringed by snow-tipped volcanoes. The Norte Chico, or ‘region of 10,000 mines,’ is a semiarid transition zone from the Valle Central to the Atacama. Ancient cultures left enormous geoglyphs on the barren hillsides. Aymara peoples still farm the precordillera (the foothills of the Andes) - pasturing llamas and alpacas in the highlands. You can diverge from the desert scenery to explore the working mine of Chuquicamata or brave the frisky surf of arid coastal cities. Take care to not be affected by altitude sickness in the mountains!
Chile’s heartland, covered with orchards and vineyards, is often skipped by travellers scrambling further afield. But if this region existed anywhere else in the world, it would be getting some serious attention. The harvests of the fertile central valley fill produce bins from Anchorage to Tokyo. Come for wine-tasting, unspoiled national parks and excellent skiing and surfing. With around 20 wineries open to the public, the Colchagua Valley is Chile’s biggest and best-established wine region. Its deep loamy soils, abundant water, dry air, bright sunshine and cool nights nurture some of the country’s best reds. At Chile’s unofficial surf capital, Pichilemu, wave warriors brave the icy waters year-round, while mere beach-going mortals fill its long black sands December through March. Pichilemu’s laid-back vibe and great waves make it easy to see why it’s so popular with visiting board-riders.
More location information and points of interest are available in the above map
THE LAKES DISTRICT
The further south you travel, the greener it gets, until you find snow-clad volcanoes rising over verdant hills and lakes. This bucolic region makes a great escape to a slower pace. The Araucanía, named for the monkey-puzzle tree, is the geographical center of Mapuche culture. Further south, the Lakes District was colonized by Germans during the 1850s and the area still retains some Teutonic touches.
Outside the shingled homes, many adventures await: from rafting to climbing, from hiking to hot-springs hopping, from taking onces in colonial towns to sipping maté with rural settlers. Hospitality is the strong suit of sureños (southerners); take time to enjoy it. Though they love the malls, rural roots still mark most city dwellers (about half the population), who split wood and make jam as part of their daily routine. Make some time to seek out the green spaces bursting beyond the city limits.
Isla Grande de Chiloé is South America’s fifth-largest island and is home to a fiercely independent, seafaring people. Immediately apparent are changes in architecture and cuisine: tejuelas, the famous Chilote (of Chiloé) wood shingles; palafitos (houses mounted on stilts along the water’s edge); the iconic wooden churches (16 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites); and the renowned meat, potato and seafood stew, curanto. A closer look reveals a rich spiritual culture that is based on a distinctive mythology of witchcraft, ghost ships and forest gnomes. All of the above is weaved among landscapes that are wet, windswept and lush, with undulating hills, wild and remote national parks, and dense forests, giving Chiloé a distinct flavour unique in South America.
A web of rivers, peaks and sprawling glaciers long ago provided a natural boundary between northern Patagonia and the rest of the world. Highway 7 was the first road to effectively link these remote regions in the 1980s. Weather decides all in this nowhere land beyond the Lakes District. So don’t rush. Missed flights, delayed ferries and floods are routine; take the wait as locals would – another opportunity to heat the kettle and strike up a slow talk over maté. Starting south of Puerto Montt, the Carretera Austral links widely separated towns and hamlets all the way to Villa O’Higgins, a total of just over 1200km. High season (from mid-December through February) offers considerably more travel options and availability. Combination bus and ferry circuits afford visitors a panoramic vision of the region. As well as Parque Pumalín to Lago General Carrera, there’s plenty more to see in this region. Don’t hesitate to tread off the beaten track: the little villages along the road and its furthest hamlets of Cochrane, Caleta Tortel and Villa O’Higgins are fully worth exploring.
Pounding westerlies, barren seascapes and the ragged spires of Torres del Paine – this is the distilled essence of Patagonia. The provinces of Magallanes and Última Esperanza boast a frontier appeal perhaps only matched by the deep Amazon and remote Alaska. Long before humans arrived on the continent, glaciers chiselled and carved these landscapes. Now it’s a place for travellers to hatch their greatest adventures, whether hiking through rugged landscapes, seeing penguins by the thousands or horseback riding across the steppe. Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is the region’s star attraction. Among the finest parks on the continent, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Throughout the region, it’s easy and worthwhile to travel between Argentina and Chile.
TIERRA DEL FUEGO
Foggy, windy and wet, Chile’s slice of Tierra del Fuego includes half of the main island of Isla Grande, the far-flung Isla Navarino, and a group of smaller islands, many of them uninhabited. Only home to 8500 people, this is the least populated region in Chile. Porvenir is considered the main city, though even that status could be considered an overstatement. These parts exude a rough and rugged charm, and those willing to venture this far can relish the end-of-the-world emptiness. Tierra del Fuego will offer you the opportunity to explore deserted roads running through its steppes, dotted with guanacos and rheas, and to fish in the pristine lakes and rivers of Chile's remotest region.
WHAT TO PACK FOR CHILE
Take as little as possible because you’re going to have to carry it everywhere. Pack your bag once and then repack it with a third less stuff. Repeat until your pack is small enough to fit into the aircraft’s overhead locker. The smaller your pack the easier it will be to climb on and off public transportation (which doesn’t always come to a complete stop), the easier it will be to walk if taxi drivers are asking for too much money, and you’ll look like less of a target for touts and hustlers.
In general, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes will be the most comfortable options. Bring a jacket for cool highland temperatures and over-air-conditioned buses. Pants and long-sleeve shirts are handy insect protection for jungle hikes.
Rain gear (jacket, dry pack for electronics)
Hat (for sun and rain)
Good walking shoes
Flip-flops (for beaches and dodgy showers)
Unlocked GSM cell phone
Refillable water bottle & water filter
Tissues (for public toilets)
WHAT TO EAT IN CHILE
Chilean cuisine is built around fantastic raw materials: in the market you can get anything from goat cheese to avocados, fresh herbs and a great variety of seafood. Though breakfast is somewhat meagre – coffee or tea, rolls and jam – food and drink options get more appealing as the day progresses. At lunch, fuel up with a hearty menú del día (set meal), with soup and a main dish of fish or meat with rice or vegetables.
Central markets can be an ideal place for cheap and traditional meals; even the most basic eateries offer plenty of fresh lemon wedges and spicy sauces you can use to doctor up your plate. Favourite sandwiches include the prolific completo (hot dog with mayo, avocado and tomato) and churrasco (steak with avocado and tomato). Empanadas are everywhere, from the classic pino (beef) to the gourmet seafood-stuffed varieties in coastal towns.
Indeed, some of Chile’s most delicious specialties are found at the beach, from machas a la parmesana (razor clams baked in Parmesan cheese and white wine) to aromatic seafood stews like paila marina and caldillo de congrio. Chupe de mariscos is shellfish baked in a medley of butter, bread crumbs and cheese.
Everywhere in Chile, you’ll find hearty classics like lomo a lo pobre (steak topped with fried eggs and French fries), pastel de choclo (baked corn casserole) and chorrillana (a mountain high platter featuring fries topped with onions, fried eggs and beef).
Chile and Peru both claim authorship of pisco, a potent grape brandy, and the famous pisco sour cocktail, in which pisco is mixed with fresh lemon juice and sugar. Many Chileans indulge in the citrusy aperitif at the start of a leisurely lunch or dinner.
With ample sunshine and moderate temperatures, Chile also has the ideal terroir for growing and producing wine. While cabernet sauvignon still reigns supreme, many foreigners fall in love with another red: Carmenere, originally produced in France and now produced almost exclusively in Chile.
LGBTQ IN CHILE
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights in Chile have seen remarkable advances in recent years. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Chile and since 2012, the law bans all discrimination and hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Since 22 October 2015, same-sex couples have the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples, within a civil union. On 15 January 2020, the same-sex marriage bill was approved at its first reading in the Senate by 22 votes to 16, and has now gone to the Constitutional Committee.
Although LGBT people still face some legal and social obstacles not experienced by non-LGBT Chileans, Chile is predominantly LGBTQ accepting and host an annual Gay Pride Parade in Santiago.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHILE
Chile has accommodations to suit every budget. In tourist destinations, prices may double during the height of high season (late December to mid-March), and extra high rates are charged at Christmas, New Year and Easter week. If you want to ask about discounts or cheaper rooms, do so at the reservation phase. Bargaining for better accommodation rates once you have arrived is not common and frowned upon.
At many midrange and top-end hotels, payment in US dollars (either cash or credit) legally sidesteps the 19% IVA (impuesto de valor agregado; value-added tax). If there is any question as to whether IVA is included in the rates, clarify before paying. A hotel might not omit the tax from your bill without your prodding. In theory, the discount is only for those paying in dollars or with a credit card.
Lodging will be one of your biggest expenses. Here are some tips for keeping sleeping costs down:
- If the price is too high, ask if the hotel or guesthouse has anything cheaper.
- Unless it is the low season, most rates are non-negotiable – though it never hurts to ask for a discounted price.
- Pay for the first day rather than for multiple days all at once. This gives you the option of changing hotels if the conditions are unsuitable.
- However, if you do decide you are going to stay for a few days, ask for a discount. Some hotels will give better rates if you’re staying more than a couple of nights.
- Advance reservations (especially with advance deposits) are generally not necessary.
- If you do make a booking, don’t use an agent, who will charge a commission.